Essay

India’s double standards on human rights: Violations at home even as its diplomacy preaches liberty

Print edition : October 09, 2020

Nepalese activists, who staged a protest against a blockade of supplies from India, being detained by the police outside the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu in December 2015. India was believed to have imposed a month-long blockade to force changes in Nepal’s draft Constitution. New Delhi did not officially admit to having done so. Photo: Niranjan Shrestha/AP

India has consistently followed double standards on human rights and people’s right to self-determination and refused to brook questions on its own conduct while taking the liberty to preach to others.

Can you imagine the uproar in India if the world had protested against India’s maltreatment of a public figure as the world has in the case of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny? Or the Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi? In India a cry would have rent the sky: “None of your business. It is our internal affair.”

This false plea never inhibits India from shouting aloud in similar cases, but for political reasons. India never spoke up for Boris Pasternak or any Soviet or Russian dissident, nor for the oppressed Uighurs of Xin Jiang. There is not one neighbour who has not suffered from India’s interference—some by intervention through force, open or covert through the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Yatish Yadav’s very informative book (RAW: A History of India’s Operations; Westland Publications; Rs.799; pages 391) proves that. It documents the deeds. It has extensive quotation from official records.

Double standards have ever been the hallmark of Indian diplomacy, regardless of the party in power. Not seldom the official in charge initiates the move. It makes him feel important.

In Kashmir, 504 separatists were freed after they signed bonds under Section 107 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973, a replica of the provision in the Code of 1878. This provision in a colonial law is sought to bind lumpen elements to “good behaviour”. It is neither fair nor decent to abuse this to bind political opponents to comply with official policy in the name of “good behaviour”, on pain of imprisonment. The 504 Kashmir “separatists” were freed only after they had signed those “good behaviour” bonds, the police chief Dilbagh Singh acknowledged on August 6 (Bharti Jain; The Times of India; August 7). This is an atrocious abuse of power. None in the international community dared condemn it lest it displease India. Protesters were abused.

Preaching to Nepal

Contrast this with India’s own behaviour in similar situations. On February 1, 2005, the official spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs was instructed to say:

“The King of Nepal has dissolved the multiparty government led by Prime Minister [Sher Bahadur] Deuba and has decided to constitute a Council of Ministers under his own chairmanship. An emergency has been declared and fundamental rights have been suspended. These developments constitute a serious setback to the cause of democracy in Nepal and cannot but be a cause of grave concern to India.

“There are also reports that several political leaders have been confined to their residences. The safety and welfare of the political leaders must be ensured and political parties must be allowed to exercise all the rights enjoyed by them under the Constitution.

“India has consistently supported multiparty democracy and constitutional monarchy enshrined in Nepal’s Constitution as the two pillars of political stability in Nepal. This principle has now been violated with the King forming a government under his chairmanship.

“We have always considered that in Nepal, it is imperative to evolve a broad national consensus, particularly between the monarchy and political parties, to deal with the political and economic challenges facing the country.

“The latest developments in Nepal bring the monarchy and the mainstream political parties in direct confrontation with each other. This can only benefit the forces that not only wish to undermine democracy but the institution of monarchy as well.”

Nepal ignored this diktat. It abolished monarchy and forged a consensus on the Constitution by its own labours. India has a record of imprisoning political leaders during the Emergency (1975-1977) and in Kashmir (2019-2020; still continuing).

To force Nepal to accept India’s demands on some provisions of the draft Constitution, it imposed a long economic blockade but denied it dishonestly. It had done so earlier as well.

India did not hesitate to instruct the King on how he should mind his business. Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran was asked at a press conference on February 2, 2005: “Did India anticipate these political developments in Nepal? Were these concerns conveyed to them?” He replied: “These concerns have been expressed repeatedly to the King of Nepal, on numerous occasions. As we pointed out in our statement yesterday, our constant refrain has been that the two pillars of political stability in Nepal are constitutional monarchy and multiparty democracy. We have also advised him against taking the kind of step that he has taken, pointing out that this would only mean that monarchy will be in direct confrontation not only with the Maoist insurgency but also the political parties. I believe that the Maoists have issued a very strong statement condemning the move that has been made by the King. This only bears out the apprehension that we have had.” Is it any wonder that by 2020 India’s relations with Nepal reached such a low?

On August 28, 2006, India said: “The unfortunate killing of the veteran Baloch leader, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, is a tragic loss to the people of Balochistan and Pakistan. This military attack in which reportedly two of his grandsons were also killed and the heavy casualties in the continuing military operations in Balochistan underline the need for peaceful dialogue to address the grievances and aspirations of people of Balochistan. Military force can never solve political problems.”

What about India’s military operations on its own soil?

Human rights and diplomacy

This trait has always governed India; regardless of the party in power. Delusions of imperial grandeur die hard. Jimmy Carter, soon after he became President of the United States, declared in a speech at the United Nations on March 17, 1977: “No member of the United Nations can claim that mistreatment of its citizens is solely its own business. Equally, no member can avoid its responsibilities to review and to speak when torture or unwarranted deprivation of freedom occurs in any part of the world.”

He succeeded in making human rights a live issue. But he erred in ignoring Secretary of State Cyrus Vance’s advice “to emphasise quiet diplomacy, saving public pressure or those occasions that called for a strong and forthright public statement… deciding whether and how to act in the cause of human rights requires informed and careful judgment”.

When expediency drove Carter to make one exception after another (Iran, South Korea, the Philippines, Pakistan and South Africa), people forgot the gains his human rights policy had secured in other respects. They remembered his strident rhetoric and attacked his inconsistencies.

In retrospect, The New York Times remarked: “Morality apart, the logic that governs a human rights policy is national interest, Claims to disinterested espousal of human rights everywhere are essentially claims to superior morality in diplomacy. Inherently untenable, they end up by reducing human rights to an instrument of policy, to the harm of both a good foreign policy and the advancement of human rights.”

Months before she imposed the Emergency in India, Indira Gandhi lauded Shaikh Mujibur Rehman for doing so in Bangladesh. On December 28, 1974, an emergency was imposed in Bangladesh and fundamental rights were suspended. On January 25, 1975, a constitutional amendment was rushed through Bangladesh’s parliament to set up a presidential system with power to the President to “direct that there shall be only one political party in the state”. Sheikh Mujibur Rehman became President and called it the “Second Revolution”. Indira Gandhi congratulated him on that very day, an act which JP (Jayaprakash Narayan) strongly criticised. It was ominous. Nor was there “opposition” or “condemnation” by her as Mujib proceeded to set up his new party BAKSAL on June 6 and order the closure of all the privately-owned newspapers on June 16, 1975. Nine days later, she moved to suppress democracy in India.

When the International League of Human Rights accused the Government of India, in a letter to the U.N. Secretary-General, of violation of human rights, India’s Permanent Mission at the U.N. was instructed to retort, on June 7, 1976, that “the protection of fundamental human rights is the concern of each sovereign state and is a matter which is essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of member-states of the United Nations.” It advanced arguments commonly urged by South Africa, the Soviet Union, Chile and other such countries.

The reply bitterly complained that “this sort of gratuitous interference in India’s internal affairs is certainly not calculated to serve the best interests of the people of India, but rather to encourage the subversive elements to try once again to destroy the framework of constitutional democracy that the Government of India has been sustaining in a country with a formidable diversity of problems of scaring magnitude.”

Nationalistic chauvinism

Kashmir provides the clearest example of this disease. It has trickled down from the government to the people through the good offices of most in the media. Now nationalistic chauvinism has taken the colour of the arrogance of colonialism. The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) has a most stimulating programme every Saturday evening—Dateline London—of foreign correspondents in London debating on current issues. It presents a fine ensemble—an Asian or African; an American; a European and a Londoner. It has deteriorated since its brilliant compere Gavim Essler left. Once someone had only to utter the word “Kashmir” since some outrage had been perpetrated. He was cut short by our Desi Bhai who was present: “It is an internal matter.” The well-bred foreigner kept quiet.

Kashmir is an international dispute. Since Kashmir raises Indians’ hackles like nothing else, let it be said bluntly that it is quintessentially an international dispute and involves its right to self-determination. India’s denials are dishonest, as the record clearly shows. Here is the record.

Jawaharlal Nehru’s telegram to Pakistan’s Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan: “Our assurance that we shall withdraw our troops from Kashmir as soon as peace and order are restored and leave the decision about the future of the State to the people of the State is not merely a pledge to your Government but also to the people of Kashmir and to the world.” Broadcasting to the nation on November 2, Nehru said: “Let me make it clear that it has been our policy all along that where there is a dispute about the accession of a State to either Dominion, the decision must be made by the people of the State. It was in accordance with this policy that we added a proviso to the Instrument of Accession of Kashmir.”

The White Paper on Kashmir calls the accession “provisional”. On August 7, 1952, Nehru said in Parliament: “It is an international problem. It would be an international problem anyhow if it concerned any other nation besides India and it does. It became further an international problem because a large number of other countries also took interest and gave advice.”

On Nehru’s orders and with the full complicity of Karan Singh, Sheikh Abdullah was dismissed from the office of Premier of Jammu and Kashmir and put in jail for 11 years so that Nehru could renege on his pledges and get the State’s Constituent Assembly to endorse the accession to India. On February 25, 1955, Lakshmi Charan asked Nehru in the Lok Sabha: “In view of the fact that the Kashmir Constituent Assembly has ratified the accession of the State to India, what will be the terms of discussion on Kashmir with the Pakistani Prime Minister?” Nehru replied: “A question like this cannot be solved unilaterally.” On May 15, 1954, even after the U.S.-Pakistan Pact was signed, Nehru said: “India still stands by her international commitments on the Kashmir issue and will implement them at the appropriate time.” Of course, he had no intentions of doing so.

His successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, admitted in Parliament: “Almost every country wants that we should somehow settle this question of Kashmir peacefully.”

This is the record. The U.N. Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan still has an office at IAB Purana Qila Road in New Delhi. U.N. maps of South Asia still carry the legend: “The final status of Jammu and Kashmir has not yet been agreed upon by the parties”. What about the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka? Ask the Sri Lankans about it.

Any matter which figures on the agenda of the U.N. Security Council or is the subject of an international agreement ceases to be an “internal” affair. Kashmir meets both tests. That explains why Nehru admitted in Srinagar on July 8, 1949, that “Kashmir is a world question”.

The Shimla Pact is often cited to argue that Kashmir is a bilateral issue. No bilateral accord can affect the UN’s jurisdiction. But now this Pact lies shattered.

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